Published on Voices

Five things you can do to end plastic pollution

Plastic straws are among the top items of marine plastics found around the world, and they?re generally not recyclable. © Kanittha Boon/Shutterstock
Plastic straws are among the top items of marine plastics found around the world, and they’re generally not recyclable. © Kanittha Boon/Shutterstock

The news headlines are grim. A male pilot whale dies on a Thai beach having swallowed 80 plastics bags; images of turtles stuck in six-pack plastic rings; a sad photo of a tiny seahorse clinging to a plastic ear-bud goes viral. Plastic products wash up daily on beaches worldwide –from Indonesia to coastal west Africa, and waterways in cities are increasingly clogged with plastic waste. 

But the world is taking note and countries, the private sector, and communities are starting to act. From bans and taxes on various single-use plastics, to investments in waste collection, and policies on reduced plastics packaging, to beach clean-ups. We are trying to break the addiction to plastics, and contribute to healthier lives and a healthier planet. 

This year, World Environment Day focuses on “Beating Plastic Pollution”. ­­The World Bank is contributing to this effort, using our suite of lending instruments and policy dialogue with key countries and cities to help identify and finance solutions to address the marine plastics issue. For example, the World Bank is a long term strategic investor in the improvement of municipal solid waste management systems that, if not correctly managed, are a major contributor to the ocean plastics problem.  Since 2000, the World Bank has invested over $4.5 billion to help improve more than 300 solid waste management programs to reduce pollution leakage, including plastics, into our environment. The Bank is also studying the flow of plastics into the ocean through a series of plastics pollution hotspot analyses to prioritize investments and look for quick wins.
But it is going to take more than building better solid waste management systems. Everyone needs to be on board to solve this problem and individual actions count.
Here are five things YOU can do—starting TODAY ­—to end plastic pollution­­:

  1. Say NO to Plastic Bags 
There are an estimated 1 million plastic bags used every minute, and a single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade. Over the last two decades, more and more countries and cities are either banning plastic bags (examples include Rwanda, California, ) or introducing levies and taxes on them (examples include Ireland, Washington D.C.) to discourage people from the plastic option. These actions have had varying degrees of success, but you can set an example by bringing your own reusable bag when you shop. Not the nylon or polyester kind because they're also made from plastic –choose cotton ones instead.
  1. Bottle your Own Water  
Did you know that humans now buy an estimated million plastic bottles per minute, and that most of this plastic is not recycled ? How many did you buy this week? Here is a quick win … bottle your own water or whatever you are drinking.  Keep a recyclable bottle in your bag, place two on your desk – a mug for the hot drink; a tumbler/glass for something cold. Plastic bottles –typically made from polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) –take over 400 years to naturally decompose.
  1. Skip Plastic Straws  
Plastic straws are among the top items of marine plastics found around the world, and they’re generally not recyclable. As a customer, use your voice at restaurants, cafes and eateries to refuse straws and plastic stirrers. Help a movement towards paper straws, as Starbucks and McDonalds are starting to do, or give up straws entirely. If you are desperate to use straws, carry your own. There are metal and bamboo straws that are now more widely available.
  1. Avoid Plastic Cutlery  
Ordering take-out? Tell the vendor to skip the plastic cutlery. Catering events? Use reusable cutlery (and plates and cups). France became the first country to pass a law that will go into effect by 2020 to ban plastic plates, cups and cutlery–hoping to spur on innovation in biodegradable products. Shop around, and change your own attitude towards choosing more ocean-friendly practices.
  1. Make Better Choices at Home  
Make Green choices at home in choosing products with less plastic packaging. Move away from the throwaway culture. Avoid cosmetics and personal hygiene products with microbeads.  Microbeads, a type of microplastic, are the little dots in your toothpaste, and facial scrubs. New research shows increasing amounts of damage from microbeads to marine life, leading to potential harm to human health. Shop around before investing in clothing that has synthetic microfibers. Often when these items are washed, they release microfibers into the water, which make their way to oceans, and may then be ingested by fish and other marine creatures.

Today, on World Environment Day 2018, please join the Plastics Detox movement.  These five, relatively simple, actions can revolutionize our relationship with plastic. Let’s use our voice, and behavior to stem the tide of plastics pollution. Maybe then we’ll read stories about pristine beaches and happy turtles. 


Anjali Acharya

Senior Environmental Specialist

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000